Ronda Rousey, the Ultimate Fighting Championship's biggest star, is once again leading headlines. And rightly so.
This time, it's twofold. She's on the cover of Sports Illustrated, which is still a big thing. Even as the digital revolution marches ever onward, being featured in the pages of Sports Illustrated represents a kind of cache that a million features on MMA-specific websites just cannot bring.
And the cover? It is obviously a big deal, because MMA has only been featured on the cover twice in the history of the magazine. The first time around, it was Roger Huerta in the role of poster boy, but he was mostly used as a stand-in for the promotion itself. That story was about the UFC and its rise to glory.
This story is about Rousey.
The magazine references Rousey as the most dominant athlete in the world. It's a familiar refrain and feels a whole lot like the promotional bluster the UFC churns out when it's time for Rousey to take center stage on one of its pay-per-view events.
It seems it is not enough for Rousey to be a pay-per-view spectacle and the most devastating and entertaining fighter in her sport; she must be relentlessly compared to people from other sports, because MMA as a whole has an inferiority complex as wide and deep as the Grand Canyon. Witness the recent #boxingisdead campaign from MMA circles after the conclusion of Mayweather vs. Pacquiao for a perfect example.
Silly promotional tactics aside, Rousey should be celebrated, not only for the athlete she currently is, but for what she went through to get to this point. In her new book, My Fight/Your Fight, Rousey goes into great detail on a life spent pursuing one of life's most difficult-to-attain goals: athletic perfection.
Make no mistake about it: Rousey is a different kind of athlete than any other fighter in mixed martial arts. I constantly tell people that if they want an indication of what kind of athlete she is, they need to watch her during one of her workouts. Watch her movement, watch her finesse and watch her explosiveness, even in moments that are supposed to serve as warm-ups for the real thing. She is unlike anyone else in the sport, and her new book details exactly what it took for her to get to this point.
If you've seen any Rousey fight, you've no doubt witnessed the glare smeared across her face as she makes her way to the Octagon. That intensity is not a fiction created to support a character; that is Rousey, personified. She is Jordan-esque in her game-day intensity, and that intensity goes back to her judo days.
Here, in a special excerpt from her book published Monday on Jezebel (which contains profanity), Rousey talks about her trip to Brazil for the 2007 World Judo Championships.
My mom says that to be the best in the world, you need to be able to beat anyone twice on your worst day. She’s right, of course. But some days you wake up and you just know no one is going to f--k with you. That’s how I woke up in Rio de Janeiro the morning of the 2007 World Championships. I woke up ready to kill somebody.
Rousey then gets specific on her first-round Japanese opponent:
As I walked back through the lobby, I saw the Japanese girl in my division coming out of the elevator. The Japanese team was staying here at the Hotel Deluxe Riviera Ritz. She was walking with two coaches, who had undoubtedly watched hours of her opponents’ footage, which they were likely discussing with her at that exact moment. She was wearing her sponsored designer sweats with her matching sponsored designer bag. But what pushed me over the f-----g edge was that she was carrying a little tea kettle with a matching sponsored designer tea kettle warmer slipped over it.
I about lost my mind.
USA Judo had barely provided us matching sweats, so I sure as s--t didn’t have a matching tea kettle warmer, and even if I had, I wouldn’t have it with me because it would have been back at El Motel and I would have to run back along Shank Road to go get the goddamn thing. The hairs on the back of my neck were standing up as every muscle in my body tensed. I caught myself grinding my teeth. My fists were balled up so tightly that my nails were digging into my palms.
You’re my first match, I said to her in my head. I’ll deal with you then.
As you can see, the book is classic Rousey. She says whatever she wants, regardless of the consequences, and pulls no punches on even the most delicate of subjects. She reveals what her life devolved into after her 2008 capture of a bronze medal in the Olympics, and it wasn't pretty. As the New York Post's Maureen Callahan noted in a Monday story on Rousey and the book, things got ugly:
Her $10,000 prize money ran out quickly, and she got a job bartending at a theme place in Los Angeles.
Rousey began smoking and drinking heavily, often beginning her day with a cigarette and a vodka espresso. She developed a pot-and-Vicodin habit. She’d sleep in her car, and when she did find an apartment, all she could afford was a 12-by-12-foot studio.
A vodka espresso? Pot and Vicodin and sleeping in her car? Yeah, you could say Rousey experienced hard times, and that even in hard times, she lived with the same zeal she does now.
But those hard times also led her to where she is today. There are plenty of people who experience the exact kind of circumstances Rousey lived in during those hard days. The difference between Rousey and others, however, is that she had something many of us do not: the desire and the will to be the absolute best in the world and the determination to actually make it happen.
Whether she is or is not the most dominant athlete in the world is a silly discussion. She doesn't need to be compared with LeBron James or Lionel Messi or Serena Williams or anyone else. It does her a disservice, because the truth is that there is no comparison.
She is a unique and wholly terrifying creation. She is a devastating combination of intellect, beauty, strength and determination.
She is Ronda Rousey, and we should stop wasting our time trying to compare her to other athletes and simply appreciate her for what she is, while we have her.